09/28/2014 11:30AM

Watchmaker: Shared Belief forced to show a new side in Awesome Again


Unless you are Victor Espinoza himself, it is impossible to know for certain if his tactics on Sky Kingdom in Saturday’s Awesome Again at Santa Anita, carrying heavily favored Shared Belief ridiculously wide on the first turn and down the backstretch, were 100 percent intentional. But there was motive for intent.

The obvious incentive was to give Sky Kingdom’s uncoupled barnmate, Fed Biz, an uncontested lead and the easiest of trips. But another was to somehow improve the Breeders’ Cup Classic chances of California Chrome by in some way compromising Shared Belief, the Classic favorite.

Espinoza, of course, has been California Chrome’s regular jockey, but after a couple of less-than-stellar rides in the Belmont and Pennsylvania Derby, his hold on this mount might now depend entirely on how California Chrome does in the Classic.

Either way, what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional. But the good news is, whether completely intentional or not, it backfired. Big time. As a result of the trip Espinoza forced Shared Belief into, it allowed us to see a dimension of Shared Belief we never had seen before. And it accomplished the unusual feat of making a dominant horse like Shared Belief a sympathetic character as well.

That doesn’t happen often. Of course, the trip Espinoza undertook also ruined whatever chance Sky Kingdom had in the Awesome Again. You have to wonder how the owners of Sky Kingdom feel about the ride they received.

But let’s give credit to Shared Belief, where it’s due. Shared Belief was unbeaten and untested in his six prior starts. We didn’t know if he had the character to respond when another horse looked him in the eye. Now we know that Shared Belief also is tenacious as well as brilliant. There is a very good chance that what happened to Shared Belief on Saturday will have the opposite of the possibly intended effect and make him a tougher horse going forward. I believe it will.

Unfortunately, questionable riding also was in play in Belmont’s big Breeders’ Cup Classic prep Saturday, the Jockey Club Gold Cup. For reasons that are not at all apparent on any replay angle, jockey Junior Alvarado on Moreno angled in sharply leaving the backstretch, causing Wicked Strong to clip heels, stumble badly, and throw jockey Rajiv Maragh heavily to the ground. Because it seemed so unnecessary, Alvarado’s move appeared reckless, and it put man and valuable horse at extreme risk. Thank goodness Maragh, whose arm was broken, wasn’t hurt much more seriously than he was because he easily could have been.

This incident marred an otherwise terrific Gold Cup, in which Tonalist and Zivo both ran very well finishing first and second. Tonalist won the Belmont Stakes, but in my view, this was his best performance to date by a considerable margin, thanks to a terrific ride by Joel Rosario. Rosario, whose overly aggressive ride on Tonalist in the Travers received deserved criticism, was patient to the extreme Saturday. And because Rosario waited, waited, and waited some more, it resulted in Tonalist producing the strongest late kick we’ve seen from him.

One other Gold Cup note: Don’t get too hung up on the final time of 2:02.12, which appears slow. For some reason, water was at a premium Saturday at Belmont. The main track was dry and dull, producing kickback you rarely see at Belmont, and progressively got slower as the day went on.

Other Saturday notes

** I understand Beholder missed some training time late at Del Mar, and that probably caused her to be rushed into the Zenyatta, a race she desperately needed to run in if she was going to be at her best in her defense of her Breeders’ Cup Distaff title. But it still was odd how Beholder seemed to give out in mid-stretch of the Zenyatta mere moments after it looked as though she was going to draw away and had to work to prevail. Beholder always has run well fresh. Maybe she really needed this return outing. But I’m having a hard time getting a handle on her performance.

** You have to admire the improvement in Belle Gallantey since she was claimed for $35,000 out of a fourth-place finish in her final start of 2013. She is 5 for 7 since changing hands, and her romp in the Beldame combined with her win in the Delaware Handicap in July to make it two Grade 1 victories this year.

But before saying, “Look out Close Hatches and Beholder,” it must be noted that Belle Gallantey was the beneficiary of two of the easiest trips a horse has ever pulled in Grade 1 races. She absolutely walked on the lead in the Del ’Cap, and she did the same in the Beldame, leaving her a fresh horse in the stretch and enabling her to throttle her competition.

** American Pharoah is good. Really good. He might not have beaten a lot in the FrontRunner, but he certainly did it the right way, and his comparative raw time was strong. American Pharoah went the 8 1/2 furlongs in 1:41.95, 0.24 seconds faster than Beholder did in the race before and 1.50 seconds faster than Angela Renee did winning the Chandelier later on the Santa Anita card. We still have the Champagne and Breeders’ Futurity to come this weekend, but it will take a special performance to threaten American Pharoah’s role as the heavy favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

** Angela Renee was a decisive winner of the Chandelier, and while she might have blossomed finally getting the chance to go two turns as daughters of Bernardini and Deputy Minister mares are likely to do, I’m wondering about the field she beat. While Angela Renee’s distant third in the Spinaway was a throwout as she was against a powerful inside speed track bias, her second before that in the Adirondack was only OK. She was no match that day for Cavorting, and a strong case can be made that third-place finisher Wonder Gal ran better than she did.

** Horses like Main Sequence deserve our appreciation. He’s been involved in street fights in his three U.S. starts -  the United Nations, the Sword Dancer, and now the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, all Grade 1 races – and he prevailed in all of them, courageously, if narrowly.

But as a Twitter follower noted right after Main Sequence prevailed in the Hirsch, this is a gelding whose biggest victory prior to coming to America came in a Group 3 race on Polytrack. Yes, Main Sequence also was second in the 2012 Epsom Derby. But you get the point. Either Main Sequence has improved dramatically on these shores, or he, along with everyone else in the distance male turf division, is ripe for the taking by good Europeans in the Breeders’ Cup.

** That’s a familiar fall refrain, and it holds true in our female turf division, too. Stephanie’s Kitten, who fell short of a European when second in the Beverly D., finally got her first win of the year in the Flower Bowl.

Improved positional speed was the key to Stephanie’s Kitten breaking through in the Flower Bowl. Once a horse who could be placed reasonably close early if circumstances warranted, Stephanie’s Kitten’s positional speed was all but absent in her recent starts. Yes, the Flower Bowl pace was slow. But so were the paces in most of her recent races. Simply put, Stephanie’s Kitten was into the game early, it left her with less to do late, and she got the job done.

** Speed was supposed to be the way Emollient was to win the Rodeo Drive, especially with blinkers on. She instead scored from off the pace, which speaks well of her resourcefulness. But it also says something about the Rodeo Drive field, which was not especially compelling.

** The Vosburgh struck me as a microcosm of the male sprint division this year: A game of musical chairs at the top with no one able to hold on to the No. 1 spot for long.

Palace, who had emerged as arguably the best in his division with two Grade 1 wins at Saratoga, could not reproduce that form. Private Zone, who pretty much had been in the witness protection program the last 10 months, won in game style, just as he did when he won last year’s Vosburgh. At this point, it’s probably a mistake not to expect a completely different name in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

** The heavily favored Itsmyluckyday was given a strange, pace-battling trip in the Kelso, and that, combined with a somewhat flat effort on the horse’s part, set the stage for an upset. Enter Vyjack. But even with a day to think about it, I still don’t know where Vyjack came up with that effort. Vyjack has been around a while now. He’s a known commodity. But he never before won a race over the kind of field he beat in the Kelso.

Michael Infurna More than 1 year ago
Just watched Awesome Again race for the first time. Shared Belief was 10 lengths the best. If you ride Mike Smith, you can expect that wide trip on every horse he rides. Today he was lucky the horse was good enough.
slewfan More than 1 year ago
To those who wonder why Chrome is "The people's horse ", it is because of his outstanding races, from coast to coast, 3 Grade 1s, which no other has accomplished to date, and the fans who come out in droves, carrying huge banners, dressed in his silks colors, etc. From coast to coast, they LOVE him. O
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
Not to discount what this horse has accomplished in his career,but racing is about what have you done lately.He hasn't won since May against 3 year olds and has now ran out of the money his last 2.So before he is the "Peoples Horse"he will need to run big in the BC Classic.He loves Santa Anita so no excuses.
Beenthere Donethat More than 1 year ago
Not to take anything away from his last victory, but beating up on Candyboy and Federal Biz, while staying at home ducking real competition is not really a great "what have you done lately". Yes SB is a nice runner, but he has to do a lot more to do anything but raise an eyebrow. Now he will get a BC in his home area, at a track where shippers historically do not fair well, at a time of the year when there is a huge temperature difference as compared to where other horses are coming from. I wish SB the best, but a victory in the BC will not say much, only that he can win when the best of horses are retired or not in form, it will only say that he can win when he is supposed to, with the deck stacked for him. Meanwhile the rest of the horses that are left have been slugging it out against each other. SB has to prove he doesn't have Lavaman-itus, that mysterious disease where a great looking Ca. horse loses his form when removed from Ca.. I have a strong feeling that Tonalist has emerged as the best 3yo in the country, but also have the feeling he will not take to the SA track for a decent run, like many other top class horses through the past.
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
Who did Shared Belief dodge? He's in line for a bonus offered for sweeping The los Alamitos Derby,Gr 1 Pacific Classic,Gr 1 Breeders Cup Classic.Very smartly managed.You sound like sour grapes making excuses for his competition before they face him .He's no cinch but the eastern horses look inferior this year.I wouldn't be surprised to see Candy Boy make noise in the exotics.
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
My take on this race is that this was the first time in Shared Belief's exceedingly well managed career that he's been asked. Hollendorfer knew he had a special animal and took his time with him. The extra care they put in after his hoof issue paid off. They built him up to the Pacific Classic and he danced a mile and a quarter on his toes. This Saturday we saw him on a day where it was and looked harder. On the track he did not look as physically bright and lively as he had at Del Mar - I am not saying he looked dull but certainly less full of himself. And maybe he does like synthetic more? And he certainly got a wide and challenging trip off fast splits early. He dug down, looking like he knew where the wire was and got the job done. So here's the five million dollar question - does this gutty effort strengthen or weaken him? Watch the work tab and the comments over the next four weeks. I like Shared Belief a lot, he's on the cusp of being legend, and what price would you take on November 1st?
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
Why is it always a price ?Can't a fan watch and root for a horse in a race where the horse is odds-on .It seems everyone is obsessed with beating a horse(possible Triple Crown winner)for a buck.There are hundreds of races daily to play and beat the publicTraditionally,.Great horses are usually short priced and are great PR for the public. Degenerate gamblers on this site light up like a flair with thier opinions.This sport needs Zenyattas ,Smarty Jones,etc.but don't revel in thier losses.When they win ,We all win.if you really love a horse ,bet them, otherwise play exotics tris,superfectas,pick 3s.Include the favorite as a back up. if he wins,you may cover your bet and aren't sour if the fave breaks the world record or ? And can enjoy the moment.Imagine watching Secretariat break a world record and betting Sham!Thats a bet you can't forget.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Just an opinion. But, the Awesome Again Stakes was just what Shared Belief needed. He'll come out as fit as ever. He has now had his prep on the same surface and track he'll be on BC day. I watched the race live and I've watched the replay several times....( yes, I'm weird).....and I truly believe Mike Smith knew he was going to catch Fed and I'm different than everyone....I don't think Shared Belief was asked for his all. Either way, it was great and he'll be ready for the Classic. I'm thinking that Shared Belief will be about 2 to 1, which is good enough for me to bet him. Could he lose? Well, of course. But, I'm rooting for him. He is awesome.
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
Cool reply Frank. Thank you. I did not feel Smith emptied the tank - and glad to hear your race side perspective. I am rooting for him too - and I don't think you'll get 2-1 - my guess is 7-5. The older horses this year are none too special and the other three year olds will be less popular at the windows.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
No comment from the owners of Sky Kingdom? If they supposedly had a horse who could get a piece of the pie, why no word from them on the way their horse was handled?
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
The author uses the name Espinoza four times in five paragraphs. He uses Bafferts' name not once. The Boy rode to instructions, case closed.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
No kidding. He needs to do what he did in last year's Pacific Classic and have another trainer and jockey push Hollendorfer's horse wide so that his horse can get an easier win. That way all the people rushing to do damage control can scream that no trainer would EVER do that for another trainer. And then they wouldn't have to make up laughable explanations to defend the jockey like they do in so many of these comments.
jon g More than 1 year ago
How do you know,were you there ?
nicholas More than 1 year ago
Wicked strong can't catch a break---hope hes ok
PalmMeadowsFarm More than 1 year ago
It didn't work this time - but may have softened him up for the B.C.
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Let one person on this board say with a straight face that GOLDIKOVA didn't dangerously impede several horses when running 3rd in the BC mile . No Change ! How many days ??? Does anybody want to say that DANZA didn't dangerously rough up several horses in the derby while being ridden ALL OVER the track . How many days ??
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
So to extend that thought since the riders of goldikova and danza didnt get days...no rider should ever again get days???????The difference was what espinosa did was planned and intentional
jon g More than 1 year ago
No the difference was that they were trying to win the race
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
No the difference was they actually committed a foul . Unlike Espinoza .
Diane Hain More than 1 year ago
Mr. Watchmaker, I would like to issue a plea to you and your fellow DRF journalists to please educate the fans on the actual rules of racing. Reading the comments since the Awesome Again was run shows the vast majority of your readers to be ignorant of the most basic rules of the running of the race.
Paul G More than 1 year ago
If they are so basic Ms. Hain, why don't you list them?
Diane Hain More than 1 year ago
Basic doesn't mean short. It's a 20 page PDF. Section 10 pf the Model Rules, "Flat Racing Rules of the Race", can be downloaded here: http://www.ua-rtip.org/industry_service/download_model_rules
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Geez, Mike, you're a tough critic. Ten Grade 1 races and apparently you were impressed by the winners of only 2 of them, American Pharoah and Shared Belief. Everyone else fell into the "He/she was good...but" pattern. I enjoyed the racing, if not always the results. Gives us plenty to contemplate and debate over the next 5 weeks.